The news yesterday that BET Head of Original Programming Zola Mashariki are departing the Viacom network is being disputed by Mashariki, who says she is on medical leave and her job is protected.
In a note to BET staff obtained by Deadline on Thursday evening, Mashariki wrote she was “concerned” to read she was part of the network’s announcement that included the exit of Hill, whose last day is today. She said she had been on medical leave since surgery last month after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Here are the facts,” she wrote in the memo (read it in full below). “I am on medical leave. My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.”
In memos of her own to staff yesterday, chairman and CEO Debra Lee said BET head of programming Stephen Hill was exiting the company as of today. In a second memo, Lee said that Connie Orlando, SVP Specials, Music Programming, and News, will serve as interim head of programming for BET Networks. It was in a subsequent paragraph of that second memo that Lee wrote: “Additionally, Zola Mashariki, EVP, and Head of Original Programming, will also be departing the network.”
BET today reaffirmed that Mashariki is no longer employed at the network, saying in a statement: “These claims misrepresent the facts and are without merit. We strongly deny any allegation of wrongdoing.” According to network sources, Mashariki was terminated on grounds of performance issues that came before her medical leave.
Mashariki has not responded to an email seeking comment.
Here’s her full memo:
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December and have been out of the office and on medical leave since my first surgery on February 6. I just had another surgery last week and it is a painful recovery for me. It has also been hard on my children.
Thank you all for your kind words and support while I have been out. I miss you too!
I heard yesterday that Stephen was leaving BET. I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company.
Here are the facts: I am on medical leave. My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.
Bob Bakish has said our company values should be honesty, empathy and bravery. I agree with this wholeheartedly and our team has embodied this over the 2 years we have worked together. Without question, including me in Stephen’s departure announcement in not in keeping with those values.
I am continuing to focus on improving my health. I have faith in the Viacom/BET leadership and know they will fix this. I have a long history in Hollywood and am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received across the entire industry during this difficult time.
Our Original Programming team has accomplished a lot in a short time and the filmmakers and community are excited to work with us again. There is so much more to do.
All my best, Zola